Ireland, Organised Chaos?

29 08 2011
Pic: Ken Sutton -

Andrew Trimble gets smashed by Manu Tuilagi and Mike Tindall. Pic: Ken Sutton

This article has been floating around in my head over the last week and may be wishful thinking on my part, I’m still not convinced if it is true, but I’m going to put it out there and see if it gets some discussion going…

Ireland have lost all four of the World Cup warm-up games where they were expected to win three from four, at a minimum. They have dropped from 4th in the IRB rankings to 8th in one month, this is their lowest position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003. While there have been marked improvements in the set-piece, their once best-of-breed backline has now turned into the teams major weakness. It has looked sterile and bereft of ideas in the last few games, offering little or no penetration and seemingly no game plan. This beggars belief when you look on paper and see the caliber of players that have made the team sheets in the last 4 games: O’Driscoll, Earls, Fitzgerald, D’Arcy, Bowe, Trimble, Kearney, Murphy are all players that any team in the world would be envious of, but yet when combined in the current system they look one-dimensional. Does this strike anyone as strange?

What if…
Ireland purposely have been selecting strange combinations in the backline, They have played a total of 6 players in the centers over the last 4 games, even out half Jonathan Sexton got a run out against France in the 12 jersey. What if the backs have been told to tone it down, nothing fancy, just ship it wide as part of Declan Kidney’s masterplan. These are players that have won the Heineken Cup and Magners League last season and it’s a backline that failed to unlock the Scottish defense even once. Could it be plausible that Kidney has kept all his cards close to his chest on purpose. Is this the big plan to catch Australia unawares?

Besides the opening 20 minutes against France in Dublin, Ireland have hardly produced one decent backline move. They have scored 3 tries in 4 games, two of those coming when the French had all but given up. Jonny Sexton is the only Irish back to get a try in four games. As far as I can see there can only be 2 explanations for this, either Alan Gaffney (backs coach) actually does not have any kind of game-plan, or, the players have been deliberately told not to give anything away.

We are all fully aware what Genia, Cooper, Ioane, Beale and O’Connor can do after their Tri-Nations series victory, But what do Australia know about us if they review our last four games? They have no idea what the starting half-backs will  be, they won’t be sure of which centers will start against them. They will surely be expecting an easy ride.

Leinster were second highest try scorers in the Magners League last season with Munster and Ulster at joint fifth. You don’t forget how to score try’s in the space of a few weeks. Of our best centers, O’Driscoll has been wrapped in cotton wool and D’Arcy (top performer in the last Six Nations) is playing so quietly he looks as if he has been sedated before games. Could Gaffney and Kidney have planned this?

Ireland are going into this World Cup as write-off’s, completely under the radar. They will field a second string team against USA and should beat them, but is it possible that they could come out all guns blazing against the Aussies a week later and perhaps create a huge upset? Of course I’d love if this were true, guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Am I delirious/dreaming? Leave a comment!


New Munster kit 2011/2012

13 07 2011

Munster rugby launched their new home, away and training jerseys for next season today. In a return to a much more traditional plain design, the jersey is red with navy trim and does not sport the two stars that many were dreading indicating the number of time you have won the Heineken Cup.

Munster 2011/12 Home kit

The away jersey is white with stripes that represent the six counties of Munster, again pretty simple.

Munster away 2011/12

My personal favorite is the navy training jersey

Munster 2011/12 Training

Finally from the below YouTube video I noticed that the home jersey has the county names embossed across the front… looking forward to seeing this in person. I like the whole range, back to something simpler and more traditional. Let me know in the comments what you think?

County names embossed across the front of the new home jersey

Jerseys are now available for pre-order from the Munster Store

ninetyninecall – Interview with Rory Best

7 04 2011

Keith Wood and Rory Best at the launch of Bushmills Brothers.

Conor Buckley: Ulster are playing in the Heineken Cup quarter final for the first time in over a decade next Saturday, what do you think their chances are going up against the Northampton Saints?

Rory Best: It’s obviously going to be very tough, You know logic would dictate that they are number one seeds, we are number eight, they are going to be heavily favorites but thankfully from our point of view that in sport, it often defies logic. It’s a great opportunity for us to first and foremost to go out and play and try to get to a level that we are happy with, not be too overawed with the occasion and go out and do ourselves justice.

CB: Ulster have had a big setback with the news that Stevie Ferris has to undergo more surgery on his injured knee and will miss the Heineken Cup Quarter final?

RB: From an Ulster Rugby point of view it’s absolutely massive, you know he’s a world-class player, for any team in the world to lose a player of that caliber will be a massive setback for them. We have a lot of strength and depth in our back-row especially, so Stevie’s unfortunate loss will be someone else’s massive opportunity to play in such a big-game. On a personal level, I am very very disappointed for Stevie as he has come through a lot and put in big performances to get us to where we are. You know as a person there is no-one that would want to play in this big game as much as he would.

CB: There is a lot of heroes shining through in the Ulster squad these days, Ruan Pienaar has been stepping up to save the day in the last few Ulster games, The Springboks in the Ulster squad have settled well?

RB: The big thing is that when you sign quality players they are going to do quality things for you, Ruan is just one example of that. The big thing that David (Humphreys) has done is that he has not just signed good players, he has signed good players that are going to step up to the mark in big games, as well as that they have to be the right fit for Ulster off the field as well. No doubt all the signings we have made so far are exactly that.

And you are losing one of your Springboks at the end of this season, BJ Botha is heading south to Munster?

RB: Yeah he is, he will be sorely missed, he was the first ‘so-called’ big name to come in whenever Ulster were struggling and I’m sure it was a massive leap of faith for him and his family to come at that time and no doubt that subsequent signings have been in-part down to him, and him being here. It’s sad for us to lose him, but we gain another good player John Afoa. From our point of view it’s a fresh new start for us next year with a new tight-head prop, a new emphasis and a new voice with regards to the scrum.

Rory Best was speaking at the launch of Bushmills Brothers in Belfast where an 18 square foot piece of street art was revealed on Great Victoria Street depicting Rory with his good friend Keith Wood. The Bushmills Brothers campaign draws upon the spirit of friendship and celebrates the experiences and stories that men share. The fantastic street art featuring Keith and Rory sum up the best of BUSHMILLS, namely genuine friends hanging out together and enjoying award winning Irish whiskey.

Original article written for

ninetyninecall – HCup:2011: Referee analysis

27 03 2011

Everyone knows the referee can be the single most influential participant in a rugby match. All to often the focus of analysis is on the players and teams, but the analysis of the referee should also be taken into account for every game. Last week saw the announcement of the referee’s to officiate in the Heineken Cup quarter finals, Nigel Owens, Romain Poite, Allain Rolland and Wayne Barnes will do the honors in a fortnight’s time. But what has their previous record been in Heineken Cup history?

Romain Poite will referee Ulster’s clash with Northampton Saints. The match is Ulster’s first in the knockout stages since they won the competition in 1999. It is also Poite’s first ever knockout stage assignment.Poite is top of the table for average number of cards per game, This season he has handed out on average 2.75 cards per game which is more double the amount of the next closest referee. Surprised by the high number, I decided to go back over the last three seasons and check the stats… He still comes out on top of the table with 1.6 cards per game over 15 games! The one thing you can say in Poites favor is that he is impartial, handed out the same amount of cards to both the home and away teams!

Wayne Barnes of England will referee the final quarter-final between Biarritz Olympique and defending champions Toulouse at Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian, the second match on the Sunday.Analysis of Wayne’s carding habits show something even more interesting, a definite bias towards to the home team in each game, this season he has not awarded a single card against the home team, in the last three seasons he has awarded only 3 cards against the home team and 10 against the away team, Toulouse beware!

Irishman Alain Rolland has been given the contest between Perpignan and Toulon at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona in the early game on the Saturday of quarter-final weekend.Another referee that tends to favor the home team, clear divide between the number of cards against the home team (3) and cards against the away team (8) in the last 3 seasons.

Nigel Owens, Wales, will take charge of Leinster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Leicester Tigers in Lansdowne road. The Welsh official was the referee for the last time Leinster and Leicester met in the Heineken Cup, the 2009 final at Murrayfield. It will be his fifth time officiating at the quarter-final stage of the Heineken Cup and his 54th Heineken Cup match. Nigel is the bottom of the table for average number of cards per game over the last 3 seasons, only 0.55.

I was quite surprised on two fronts when looking through the stats, what stood out for me was the large gap between Romain Poites number of cards per game and the home-team bias on display from Barnes and Rolland. Food for thought!

Analysis of the HCup QF Rugby Referee's performance

Stats were compiled from

ninetyninecall – Interview with Geordan Murphy

17 03 2011

14 years at Leicester Tigers, seven Premiership titles, two Heineken Cups and an Anglo-Welsh Cup win as well as 67 caps for Ireland and two Test appearances for the British & Irish Lions. Geordan Murphy took some time out to answer a few of our questions…

– How is the foot injury coming along?
“It’s coming on very well, saw a specialist the other day and he’s very happy with the way things are going. I’m still on crutches, I still have some plates and screws that have to be taken out in the first week of April, hopefully be back on my feet and train fully after that.

– The Tigers are riding high on top of the Premiership, a huge Heineken Cup Quarter Final in Dublin against Leinster coming up, how do you think that game will go?
“I think it’s going to be very difficult obviously, always a very difficult place to come and play. Leinster gave us a good beating the last time we were over, they are a very good side, providing most of the Irish team so it is gonna be really difficult for us. We have a couple of games in the Premiership to play before then and if we can come over with almost a full-strength team, we can give Leinster a good game.

– A lot of criticism levelled at the Irish coaching setup and players over the past year, do you see their change of game plan to a more running rugby game as being a positive coming into the World Cup?
“Yeah I think it was the way it was going to go, most teams are trying to hold onto the ball as much as possible, obviously there is still a place for a kicking game but most teams are trying to play more of an expansive game, hold onto the ball and create scores. I think Ireland have been forced to change.”

– You’ve had a difficult history with the World Cup, missing the 2003 competition due to a broken leg in a warm up game against Scotland and then getting minimal game time in 2007. Presumably you have a huge desire to get to New Zealand in September?
“That’s really my goal, It’s been difficult being injured, but I’m hoping to be able to get fit in time to challenge for a place. You have to appreciate that Ireland have a lot of talent at the back, and a lot of very very talented fullbacks so it’s going to be very difficult for me to secure a place in the squad, but that was my goal and that’s what I’m going to work towards over the next few months.”

– There has been a rumour circulating that there has been a chicken dish named after you in a restaurant in Leicester?
“Haha, well that’s actually mine and Castro’s (Castrogiovanni’s) place, we opened it together, so yeah there is a dish in there that has my name on it alright!”

ninetyninecall – Interview with Stephen Ferris

17 03 2011

– Heineken Cup quarter-final is on the 10th April against Northampton Saints in Franklin’s Gardens, Do you hope to be back in time, any update on the injury?
“Well I have started back running last Monday, fingers crossed I get a couple of good fitness sessions in over the next few weeks and try and get back onto the pitch, that’s the target for the minute”

– Have you been keeping an eye on Northampton’s recent form? Since January they have only won one Premiership game out of seven – What do you think of this slump in form?
“Yeah, they have, but they are a pretty good team with a lot of internationals to return into their squads, they’ll get a couple of wins before we play them I’m sure of it. It’s gonna be a tough game but we’re definitely up for it, it’s been all the talk around Ulster for the last 6 weeks or so, we’ll go over there and try and put a bit of pressure on them.”

– Ulster this season have been strengthened by the signings of Springboks (Muller, Wannenburg, Pienaar along with Botha) how have they settled into Ulster lifestyle?
“Brilliant, they are really loving it Ruan and Johann Muller are having an awesome time at the minute, really settled in and enjoying their rugby, All playing well and they are a good inspiration for the rest of the lads as well”

– I have to ask your opinion on the line-out incident in the Wales last weekend, the players must have been gutted to have such a poor refereeing decision go against them?
“Every supporter and fan is feeling slightly robbed, small decisions like that in test matches are the difference between winning and losing, and unfortunately we lost. I think if something like this was to happen at a World Cup, it would be a laughing stock. It is something that’s really hard to take for the lads, but I’m sure if we get a win this weekend, it’ll be quickly forgotten about!”

– Next weekend’s game against England, sure to be an intense battle, the lads will not need any extra incentive to get fired up, what has he thought of England’s performance so far in the 6N?
“That’s it, I’ve been asked a few questions tonight, ‘Will the boys be fired up? After last week being defeated, there is nothing to play for?’ – I say there is a lot to be played for, there’s a lot of pride at stake. You don’t want England beating you on your own home patch. England are a good side to play against and an even better side to beat. It’s gonna be a big game for us.

– What do you think about Will Greenwood claiming that England go into this game as Underdogs?
“He’s probably right, from my perspective, it’s gonna be a very tight game but I think that Ireland will come out on top!”

Original article written for

Heineken Cup – who needs what from Rounds 5 & 6

11 01 2011

As the Heineken Cup reaches the climax of the pool stages, here is how I see things panning out…

Pool 1

Only one winner from this group. Northampton (16pts) to qualify and they face Edinburgh this weekend and Castres away in last game. Although their form has stuttered somewhat in recent weeks domestically they should have enough to close this group out.

Cardiff and Edinburgh are both out of contention; Castres have a tiny chance of runner up spot but would require two bonus-point wins.

This weekend’s games: Blues v Castres, Saints v Edinburgh

Prediction: Blues by 3, Saints by 8

Only the Saints to qualify.

Pool 2

Leinster are riding high (14pts), 5pts clear of Clermont and Racing. The Irish side are hitting a rich vein of form at the moment despite going into the last couple of games with some injury worries, and they will claim the top spot.

Saracens are out, Racing Metro and Clermont are in a dogfight for 2nd, although I think it will be too little, too late

This weekend’s games: Leinster v Saracens, Clermont v Racing

Prediction: Leinster by 12, Racing by 3

Only Leinster to qualify.

Pool 3

Almost too tight to call: only 3 points separate Toulon (13pts), Munster (11pts) and the Ospreys (10pts). Only London Irish are out of this pool.

Toulon will not roll-over at home as they did in Thomond in October that’s for sure, and Munster will have to earn every single point on offer this weekend. This group is wide open, but I am leaning towards Munster to scrape through with their decade-plus of Heineken Cup experience.

This weekend’s games: Toulon v Munster, London Irish v Ospreys

Prediction: Munster by 2, Ospreys by 12

If Munster can win this weekend the pool is theirs…

Pool 4

Biarritz (16pts) look likely to qualify, but there is the threat of Ulster leap-frogging them, who travel to Ravenhill this weekend. It’s a tough place to go and win as Stade will testify from last season. Ulster’s recent poor form of late counts against them so I’m going to go for Biarritz. Aironi and Bath’s European dream is over for another season.

This weekend’s games: Bath v Aironi, Ulster v Biarritz

Prediction: Bath by 25, Biarritz by 2

Biarritz to win the group, whilst Ulster have an outside chance of going through to the quarters as a best runner up.

Pool 5

Another very tight group, and I’m predicting heartbreak for the Scarlets. Even though the Tigers sit in second position in this pool, I tip them to go through. They face first-placed Scarlets this weekend in what will be a cracker of a game, with two teams with very contrasting styles going head-to-head. Treviso are definitely out, and the other three spots are to be decided.

This weekends games: Trevsio v Perpignan, Scarlets v Tigers

Prediction: Perpignan by 15, Tigers by 10

Tigers to top the group, and next week’s final game of the round between Perpignan and Scarlets will probably see the winner go through to the quarters as a runner up.

Pool 6

A bit more cut and dried in this group with two teams riding high. Expect wins for both Toulouse (17pts) and Wasps (15pts) this weekend, which should be enough for both to go through. Glasgow and the Dragons were only making up the numbers in this group.

This weekends games: Toulouse v Dragons, Glasgow v Wasps

Prediction: Toulouse by 18, Wasps by 6

Both Toulouse and Wasps to qualify for the quarter-finals.

All going well (and my predictions rarely do!) this is how I see the Quarter Finals shaping up:

1. Toulouse v 8. Perpignan
2. Biarritz v 7. Wasps
3. Saints v 6. Munster
4. Tigers v 5 Leinster

Original article written for

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